On the 3rd of February, 2021, Growth through Nutrition invited professionals from Ethiopia and beyond to discuss some lessons learned in the health and agriculture sectors during the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinar, which was organized by Tufts University, aimed to highlight key lessons in both sectors by presenting findings from two recent complementary studies on provision of frontline health and agricultural services. Moderated by Rahel Gizaw, Senior Learning Advisor for the Growth through Nutrition Activity, the event featured two speakers Dr. Abdulhalik Workicho, Research Manager for Tufts, and Dr. John Hoddinott, Professor of Food & Nutrition Economics and Policy for Cornell University who each presented on their respective research.
Dr. Abdulhalik provided the first presentation based on remotely conducted research on the changes and mitigating strategies that resulted from the COVID epidemic in Ethiopia. He highlighted that most health centers and health posts in the country reported adopting mitigation strategies (mainly around awareness creation and infection prevention) to respond to the present service utilization and delivery impact that was felt, largely due to fear of COVID-19 infection. He further compared the provision of maternal and child nutrition/health services to the same period in the previous year, showing a brief reduction in services in 2020, with a few exceptions such as child Vit A supplementation and malnutrition screening.
Dr. Abdulhalik also noted that agricultural services were not spared from the impact of COVID-19 either, specifically in terms of agricultural extension worker support and agricultural marketing and input. Similarly to the health sector, agriculture response to pandemic consisted mainly of awareness creation. He concluded with key lessons such as the success of mitigation strategies such as taking services door-to-door, while noting additional resources may be needed to sustain this over the longer term.
Dr. John Hoddinott followed with a presentation on a survey which began pre-COVID-19 (August 2019), looking at Health Extension Workers’ time and followed up with the participants during the pandemic in 2020. In order to effectively evaluate the level of change brought on by the virus, participants were requested to reflect on workload and activities that had taken place at four different time periods (August 2019 and February, May and September of 2020). This data provided a number of notable observations, such as that while most services offered remained stable, the amount of time spent on activities shifted during COVID, with a focus on new COVID-related services. He noted that this was early in the pandemic and was followed by a recovery in time allocation by September 2020 for most activities.
Finally, Dr. Hoddinott concluded that activities that related to issues with an immediate threat to life (severe malnutrition management, HIV/AIDs) were well protected while activities such as complementary breastfeeding counseling and growth monitoring received reduced time allocation. He concluded his presentation by noting that despite the improvement seen to take place by September 2020, the upcoming survey (Feb,2021) will determine if this trend has continued.
Both presentations proved to be highly insightful and provided a very promising view of the sector level impact and resiliency of these offices to the pandemic. Click here to see the video recording of the event and here for the summary report.